Why Did Bush Not Pardon Israeli Spy?
By Joseph Fitsanakis* | intelNews | 01.26.2009
IN HIS LATEST ARTICLE FOR The Santa Barbara News Press, Robert Eringer, the former FBI counterintelligence agent who now works for Prince Albert II of Monaco, reminds intelligence observers of the case of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Jay Pollard. Pollard, who has so far served 24 years of a life sentence, was found guilty in 1987 of spying on the US on behalf of Israel, while working as a US Navy intelligence analyst. According to his sentencing guidelines, he is not to be released from prison before 2015. Israel remained silent during Pollard’s arrest, trial and conviction. But in 1998, the Israeli government awarded Pollard Israeli citizenship and admitted he was working on its behalf when captured by US Navy counterintelligence agents.
Since his arrest and conviction, Pollard has been considered something of a national hero in Israel, and an enormous effort has been launched to secure his release. Israeli newspapers, whose articles routinely liken Pollard to Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, who was captured by Hamas in 2006, disclosed earlier this month that a “massive campaign was conducted behind the scenes in Washington to persuade US president George W. Bush to commute Pollard’s sentence”. The effort, which included “tens of thousands of phone calls” that “flooded the White House”, was so enormous that several Israeli insiders considered Pollard’s release almost certain. Acting on inside information, one Israeli news outlet had “even prepared an article celebrating his release under a would-be headline ‘Jonathan Pollard is Coming Home!’”. Pollard remained imprisoned after all, and the question is, why did George W. Bush not succumb to these lobbying pressures?
One possible answer is provided by Ronald Olive, a former counterintelligence officer for the US Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), who is quoted in Robert Eringer’s article. Olive led the US Navy’s prosecution of Jonathan Pollard and eventually wrote a book –titled Capturing Jonathan Pollard– about the case. Speaking to the BBC earlier this month, Olive described Pollard’s spying activity as “one of the most devastating cases of espionage in US history” during which Pollard stole over “one million classified documents”. He also appeared certain that “not only did the intelligence go to Israel [...] but to other countries as well”, and dismissed the view of Pollard as an Israeli national hero: “[i]t did not matter [to] whom [he sold the classified information]. It was all about him. It just so happened that Israel took him on”, said Olive. The retired Naval counterintelligence officer also revealed to Robert Eringer that Pollard “passed more secrets to a foreign power (360-plus cubic feet of paper), in the shortest amount of time, than any spy before or after him”.
The above revelations by Ronald Olive may well explain why Pollard remains in prison, despite the immense lobbying pressure in favor of his release. Last time such a massive campaign was launched was in January of 2000, when departing US President Bill Clinton almost gave in to pardoning the Israeli spy. At that time, then CIA Director George Tenet threatened to resign in protest if Pollard was pardoned, says Eringer, who further points out that Tenet’s strong feelings about the Pollard espionage case “represented the intelligence community’s view”. It is more than probable that these very same views were once again communicated in no uncertain terms to George W. Bush, earlier this month. The latter, having already blamed US intelligence agencies for his Iraq War fiasco, appears to have decided to refrain from delivering yet another blow to America’s intelligence community.
* Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis has been writing and teaching on the politics of intelligence for over ten years. His areas of academic expertise include the institutional analysis of the intelligence community; the interception of communications; and the history of intelligence with particular reference to international espionage during the Cold War. He is co-founder and Senior Editor of intelNews.org. His latest writings for intelNews.org are available here.